The red area depicts the downtown overlay district that would include the Burlington Town Center redevelopment.
A Burlington city councilor who recused himself from votes on a downtown zoning ordinance has since thrown his weight behind the proposal.
Chip Mason spent weeks on the sidelines as his colleagues discussed and voted on aspects of a new downtown district where maximum building heights of 160 feet would be allowed. The proposed district includes the Burlington Town Center and would allow its owner, Don Sinex, to go forward with his proposed $250 million mall makeover, complete with 14-story towers.
The Ward 5 Democrat sat out that vote because his law firm, Gravel & Shea, represented Sinex’s development group, Devonwood, in an unrelated matter.
But since then, Mason has come out in support of the zoning change, which is on the Burlington ballot as question No. 3. He also supports question No. 4, which asks voters to authorize $21.8 million in tax increment financing for public infrastructure around the Sinex project.
Mason told Seven Days that before he lent his name to campaign literature backing the ballot measures, he checked with Burlington city attorney Eileen Blackwood to ensure he had no conflict of interest.
“She did confirm that no, my recusal does not preclude me from letting my constituents know my views on the proposed ballot questions,” Mason said. “I have a First Amendment right to relay my views.”
Mason said he attended an informational neighborhood house party where he spoke in favor of both items. And he engaged with residents on social media, fighting against inaccuracies presented by the opposition, he said. His signature also appears on campaign literature distributed to homes around the city by the Partnership for Burlington’s Future, a political action committee first created in 2012 by Mayor Miro Weinberger. The group has been working to get four ballot items passed — most notably questions three and four.
The PAC raised more than $21,000 during a three-week span in October and has spent about $12,000 during that time, mostly on advertising and brochures. Among its biggest contributors are Ernie and Tony Pomerleau of Pomerleau Real Estate, who each gave $2,500 to the cause.
File: Matthew Thorsen
A company employee, Yves Bradley, is chair of the Burlington Planning Commission.
Over the summer, the commission was tasked by the city council with creating language for the zoning change proposal before sending it back for a vote by the council. Public hearings became contentious as opponents encouraged the commission to strike the 14-story height limit from the proposed district. Supporters of the change also turned out, making for some marathon meetings around the issue.
Bradley this week vehemently denied any conflict of interest between his position as vice president of commercial brokerage at the firm and his role with the city. He said he knew nothing of the contributions made by his bosses, who contribute liberally to political campaigns and philanthropic causes.
“The planning commission went from being a group of people interested in helping the city to becoming a politicized entity — and that’s never good,” Bradley said.
During a July 6 planning commission meeting, Coalition for a Livable City member Michael Long urged Bradley to recuse himself from the discussion because of his job as a real estate broker. Bradley declined, instead voting, along with three other members, in favor of sending the ordinance language back to the city council.
Members of the Coalition for a Livable City, pictured in July
At the same meeting, Lee Buffinton recused herself from the discussion after a representative of her employer, Champlain Housing Trust, spoke in favor of the project. Buffinton resigned from the board the next day.
Bradley said he didn’t think he had a conflict. “If you reach that far about a conflict, then everybody is conflicted,” Bradley said. “You can’t go that far in a community this small because everybody is conflicted, so nobody can do shit.”
He said he felt it was his duty to participate in the meeting.
“Do you know how much it sucked?” he said. “I would have loved to be able to say, ‘I have a conflict, I can’t do this one.’”
Bradley acknowledged that he’s going to vote in favor of the zoning change, but that the height does give him pause.
“We have a big old hole in the ground that’s even more empty than it was before,” he said. “Even if the vote fails, something will happen there — who knows what.”